Once upon a time in America, we were all immigrants. Yet today, it’s no longer the tired, poor and huddled masses making their way into the land of milk and honey. Those with enough money are welcomed, while those most like our ancestors are derided as scofflaws and left to fend for themselves.
On June 15, President Barack Obama awoke from his two-year-long domestic policy hibernation and declared approximately 800,000 children of illegal immigrants would not face the risk of deportation — as long as certain criteria was met. Unsurprisingly, his not-quite-amnesty policy elicited a chorus of “you’re putting Americans at risk” howls from conservatives.
Unfortunately, those who yell the loudest often frame the argument, and the right wing has an abundance of screamers in its corner. A quick Google search for “illegal immigration crime” yields an astounding cesspool of misinformation emanating from those lined up on the conservative side of the political ledger.
The truth is immigrants, including illegal immigrants, are far less likely to commit crimes than American citizens. “Immigrants in California are, in fact, far less likely than U.S.-born Californians are to commit crime,” according to a 2008 article from Time Magazine. In addition, a study by the Public Policy Institute of California revealed immigrants comprised only 17 percent of California’s prison population, even though they accounted for 35 percent of state’s total adult population.
The reason should be obvious: Anyone risking his or her life to make the arduous, resource-draining transit toAmerica is far less likely to throw it all away committing a crime. What then can be said about the boisterous cry that illegal immigrants receive public aid without paying into the system from which they benefit?
Escaping from the minds of the skeptics is the fact that even illegal immigrants pay sales tax. We can confidently assume undocumented workers earn pitifully low wages performing the menial labor many Americans wouldn’t do. Taking this into consideration, it’s doubtful they would pay much, if anything at all, in federal and state income tax. Had they been naturalized citizens, they’d likely be eligible for the aid they would currently be receiving. If they were paying into social security, the businesses employing them would have to increase their wages.
Knowing how businesses operate, they would directly pass these increased expenses to us, the consumers. Americans reap tremendous savings in the cost of produce as a result of ill-gotten labor. However, the ones profiting the most from undocumented workers are the businesses employing them. They disregard established labor laws during the hiring process and offer low wages. Hiding employees on the payrolls also spares the employer from having to pay medical and retirement benefit programs.
Still, anti-immigration detractors claim we cannot afford to provide previously denied secondary education loans and grants to the children of illegal immigrants. But California’s Dream Act is only estimated to cost taxpayers $65 million annually. Even so, Beacon Economics, an independent economic research firm, predicts California’s economy would continue its emergence from the depths of recession.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney belatedly read the writing on the wall and announced his own plan for immigration reform. Pandering to his base, Romney excludes the education option. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn three of four provisions in Arizona’s fledgling immigration law is another sign illegal immigrants are here to stay, as long as they don’t commit any crimes.
It’s important to keep in mind Obama’s revised Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, “DREAM-light,” expressly excludes convicted criminals from the deportation respite. The Pew Hispanic Center has reported that the rate of deportation has doubled throughout the past decade and Obama’s decree is unlikely to reverse the trend. Instead, it will merely separate the wheat from the chaff.
The children in question are the wheat. They beat the odds, earning their high school diplomas despite coming from the demographic with the highest dropout rate. Tenacity will serve them well in the pursuit of lofty academic goals. Hopefully they will help reverse the achievement gap in math and science between America and other developed nations, a gap Americans have shown little interest in closing.
Illegal immigrants are not threats to society and have paid for their right to be within our borders. Allowing their children the freedom to remain in America is a continuation of the American Dream our ancestors strove for once upon a time.
– Mike Heral, contributor, is a journalism junior